Mount Tom Revisited

As we tried to figure out where we’d hike today, we decided a familiar route would suit us and I was pleased when my guy suggested Mount Tom in Fryeburg. It’s an old favorite that has improved with age since The Nature Conservancy added a new trail recently. This property was important to them because the Saco River flows below.

I’d first explored the new trail with Marita Wiser, author of HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION, in October and then with my guy a short time later.

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Today, we decided to park our truck across from the old trailhead and walk down Menotomy Road so we wouldn’t have that trudge after our hike. I wish the trail was a loop, but it can’t be and so we made our own. The snowstorms of the last two weeks had buried the cemetery entrance and only a couple of headstones poked out.

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One and a half miles later, we climbed over the snowbank at the trailhead and strapped on our snowshoes.

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We were thankful that someone or two or three had packed the trail before us.

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Just after stepping onto the West Ridge Trail, we passed between a house and barn foundation. All that was visible–the center chimney’s supporting structure, which probably dates back to the 1800s. Perhaps the original homesteaders were buried in the cemetery.

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At first the tromp was easy because it passes gently across the terrain and so I had time to look around. Fresh tinder conks growing on paper birch trees pleased my eye.

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I love their colors, which reminded me of oyster shells I’d spent a childhood collecting.

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A few minutes later I spied a house I hadn’t noticed in the fall. My guy looked over and told me it wasn’t a house at all.

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He was right, of course. Two large boulders, erratics dropped by the glaciers that formed Mount Tom, a Roche Moutonnée, stood out because of their snow covered tops. We didn’t move closer, but I’ve a feeling they provided homes for mosses and ferns and other assorted flora and perhaps even wildlife. So maybe I was also correct.

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After crossing the snowmobile trail that passes through the preserve, we continued on through the hardwood forest and started climbing up and sometimes down. Through the trees we spied the summit, but still had a ways to go.

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One of my favorite trees grows in this forest–white oak. And though it’s not common in the woods I normally traverse, I’m learning to identify it by the plated blocks of its bark.

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It helps, of course, when the round-lobed leaves are found nearby.

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At last we reached the ledges, where I’d hoped to see bobcat sign. We did see porcupine evidence, but the snow was soft and tracks almost indecipherable.

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We also found plenty of signs of another frequent visitor. But with that–a major disappointment. I’m sorry to report that I didn’t find any pileated woodpecker scat today.

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Across the trail from the pileated debris, the work of a gray squirrel. Dinner required toil–it had dug a hole that looked to be about three feet deep. How do they know where to find those acorns they cached last fall? I’m always in wonder of such digs. And those that they don’t find become trees. It’s all good.

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I probably wouldn’t have missed this tree, but my guy wanted to make sure I saw it. He spread his arms in the same manner and felt it was welcoming us to the ridge. Indeed.

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Nearby, someone else was welcomed–and I’m not referring to the acorn. Yes, that provided a squirrel meal, but scattered feathers indicated a downy woodpecker met its demise. And a predator dined.

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We were almost to the summit when a burl revealed some of its inner beauty–the bark having fallen off. Grains once straight twisted and contorted thanks to a virus or fungus or some other means. I loved the swirl of lines, some thin and squiggly.

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And then the beauty of the view greeted us–Pleasant Mountain in the distance and the Saco River valley below. We met a young family at the summit and thanked them for paving the way. They’d never climbed here before and asked about the old trail down.

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We explained that that was our choice and though it’s a bit steeper, it’s a quicker way back to the road.

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We also told them we’d do the honor of paving the way because it had been a storm or more since anyone had trudged that way.

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Because it’s a rather straight downhill, we felt like we were floating for most of the trail and welcomed the sight of Mount Kearsarge among the beauty of the young birches. Once the trail widened, the snow was deeper and it became a trudge again, but the end was nearing.

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Right before reaching the road, Old Glory flew as she faithfully does in the field.

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And always a favorite–the barn beside the trailhead highlighted by the mountains and sky.

We’d come to the end and were thankful for the opportunity to climb Mount Tom again. We were especially thankful for the family who’d gone before on the West Ridge Trail–it was a bit of a slug for us, but even more so for them and we wondered if we’d have completed the loop had it not been for their hard work. We don’t know their names, though we do know their dog’s–Roscoe. May Roscoe’s owners sleep well tonight.

 

 

 

 

The Dog Days of Winter

A sunny, 43˚ day in the middle of February is reason to celebrate, especially given all the snow of the past two weeks. And so Bridgton, Maine, did just that with its annual winter carnival sponsored by the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.

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Highland Lake in downtown Bridgton was the setting for the activities, including dog sled rides and an ice fishing derby.

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As folks got settled on the sled, the lead dogs eagerly awaited their chance to follow the course.

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And then they were off for a short journey around the lake.

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Though we didn’t go for a ride today, my guy and I have taken several and it’s a delightful way to explore. Bridgton is also home to the Mushers Bowl, a sanctioned race which occurred two weeks ago at Five Fields Farm.

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Today the dogs weren’t competing, but rather providing scenic rides and they did so with smiles on their faces. They were born to run.

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If you haven’t been snuggled in a sled behind a team, I strongly encourage you to try it.

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Further out on the lake, the fishing derby was in progress. We didn’t walk out because we were eager to get to another event closer to the beach. Plus, we’d left our snowshoes at home and post holing was the name of the game without them.

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Instead, we turned our attention to an open spot created by the town crew.

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Many gathered to watch the annual polar dip called Freezin for a Reason, a benefit for Harvest Hills Animal Shelter in neighboring Fryeburg. Harvest Hills is a shelter that accepts stray, neglected and abandoned dogs and cats.

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Those taking the plunge donned a variety of costumes.

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And their faces told the story.

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They offered support with smiles.

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Some disappeared under water for a few seconds.

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While there were those who dove in, others were more cautious.

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All kinds of critters came out to cheer them on.

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Laughter, hoots and hollers filled the air, while rollers curled the hair.

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Kids of all ages got into the act.

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And some accepted the challenge to get to the other side of the “pool” where local firefighters were ready–just in case–and happy to offer high fives. Thankfully, their rescue services weren’t needed.

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It was fun to watch co-workers and their individual approaches.

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Each reacted differently to the common goal.

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And the best was saved for last, when Jen was introduced.

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She waved to the crowd as she walked the white carpet to the water’s edge.

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Joan gave her hand so she wouldn’t slip.

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And the fire crew moved in to provide additional support.

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Jen loves to swim.

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And so she did, kicking up water in the face of her aids.

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To the cheers of all watching, she finally got out.

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Like all who took the plunge, she was greeted with a warm towel.

In honor of dogs and cats, all of these folks raised money to the tune of over $20,000. They deserved all the cheers they received as they celebrated this beautiful and balmy dog day of winter.

 

 

 

When Life Gives You Flakes

After a delightful childhood in Connecticut, I began my journey north . . . in search of more snow. And a job, of course. Eventually I found my way to western Maine and love followed–for my guy and for the good fortune of snowy winters. Some are more icy and rainy, but this year–ahhhhhh, what a treat.

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I know that not everyone agrees, but when life gives you flakes I hope you can find your way out the door. This was the view that beckoned me this morning, but the door was blocked by sixteen inches of the white stuff so I had to use the front door.

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In the past ten days over five feet has piled up on top of the base we already had. My studio can attest to it all.

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I wanted to capture the landscape and see what it offered before the sun and wind changed the world. There’s something about the pines plastered in white that makes my heart smile as I step into the woods.

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One of my favorite pines is an old wolf tree along the cow path. It’s lovely on any day, but particularly when its arms are outlined.

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And beside the path, several large hemlocks offered secret forts beneath their laden branches.

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Further along, red maples, their buds growing rounder each day, provided enormous support as a few flakes continued to fall.

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Below the maples, I crossed over mouse tracks, surprised to see that they’d ventured forth on a risky mission to find food.

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And then I followed a deer run, marvelously straight, along the snowmobile trail.

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Where the deer paused to browse, I paused to notice.

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And once in a while I spotted deer hair.

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Just above, one caught between two hemlock twigs.

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There were other observations to make, like the snow wrapped around trees much the way we wear scarves . . .

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and woolen ponchos.

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Occasionally, treats presented themselves, like this double scoop ice cream cone.

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Eventually, the morning light gave way . . .

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to the sun.

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And I knew it wouldn’t be long until the plops and drips began . . .

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releasing the snow one branch at a time.

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Rather than see it as a dead end, I long ago chose to embrace winter.

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And so this morning, I stopped by the snowy archway, stepped out of my snowshoes . . .

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And made a snow angel in the middle of the trail.

When life gives you flakes . . . have fun!

(Back at home, it was time to shovel by the back door and scoop the driveway–our world is getting smaller and we’re all dealing with tunnel vision, but warmer temps are just around the corner.)

 

Universal Love

Dedicated to my guy and all who wander and wonder with me.

When I wander, hearts frequently speak to me . . .

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of joy . . .

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and growth,

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rhythm,

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and inner . . .

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secrets.

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Some hearts are well-rounded,

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others gigantic,

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and occasionally there are those missing a part, but still pulsing with life.

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A few are lopsided and . . .

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sometimes overflow.

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A rare find is one pawed by a deer (deer heart!)

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While a few dangle,

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support is often appreciated.

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Always, they offer an outer expression of life within.

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All speak the universal language of love.

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And whenever I arrive home, I’m treated to a heart created for me by my guy.

To him I say, “I love you.”

And to all of you readers who have taken the time to  wander and wonder with me for almost two years, I extend my heart-felt thanks.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

 

Falling Stars

The sight of falling snowflakes filled that spot in my soul that is devoted to wonder.

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Each tiny morsel unique.

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Many stacked high.

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Some precariously perched.

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Others well supported.

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Foundations varied.

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Stairways formed.

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Boardwalks hid.

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Moss Monsters smiled.

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Moose chuckled.

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Mallards speculated.

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And the red fox paused.

Watching snowflakes gather reminded me of the impermanence of it all. They are exquisite and beautiful, yet temporary.  Here one moment, trampled and melted the next. Yet, I am forever awed by each tiny star that falls from the sky.

Embracing the Calm

Yesterday it snowed and the air held its winter red-cheeked nip.

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Today, five inches of fresh snow on the ground and stone walls with temps in the upper 40˚s–certainly a feeling of spring.

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As I headed into my smiling place, I had high hopes of seeing the golden-crowned kinglets I heard and saw the other day when my fingers were too cold to snap a photo. So the pishing began–me repeating “pish” over and over again in hopes of a repeat performance. No kinglets, but the chickadees came and followed me for a bit–I felt like the Pish Piper.

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As I snowshoed, I spotted numerous  trees like this striped maple, broken and worthy of inspection. Each time, I stepped in for a closer look. And finally was rewarded.

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Hair.

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Moose hair.

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A bull moose, like a buck deer, thrashes bushes and small saplings when the velvet on its antlers dries. It could be that the velvet itches. But it could also be a response to increasing testosterone and the need to scent mark.

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The frayed striped maple held messages I couldn’t read. But I had the joy of knowing they were there. And a better understanding of why this tree is called moosewood.

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Taking a different route home, I spied the pattern of our neighborhood porcupine. Apparently it had made a journey during the overnight hours when the storm was still in progress.

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I didn’t see any hemlock twigs scattered on the ground, but one nipped end starred me in the face from its suspended position on the branch of another tree.

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And in the hemlock, yesterday’s snow gathered still on more nipped twigs. Porky has certainly been active. For now, he rests under the barn.

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As the sun finally set on this beautiful day, I ran outside to capture the red sky. My mother used to say, “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.” I’ve a feeling that there will be a red sky in the morning and the sailors will need to heed the warning. Another storm is pending.

Between the storms, I embraced the calm. And was rewarded.

Tonight, one more reward that was captured in our minds’ eyes–my guy turned on the deck light and called to me. We watched an opossum move across the deck and head to the spot where the shed meets the barn and all critters enter and depart–porcupines, raccoons, skunks, woodchucks and now an opossum. It was our first sighting of this homely mammal.  I’d wondered where it might be and haven’t seen its tracks since the first time I spied them just before Christmas.

Barns are meant to house animals, especially when they need to get out of a storm. Our animals just happen to live under the barn (well, all but the squirrels and mice that live in it), though I have to wonder how this menagerie embraces the calm as they coexist.

Between storms, seek calm and embrace it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mondate with Tom and Friends

My guy and I–we drove to Portland this morning for a two-hour meeting and then enjoyed lunch with one of his sisters at the Miss Portland Diner before moving on to South Portland to run an errand and finally returning home.

Too much food and sitting time. And so the woods beckoned.

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Right out the back door, male turkeys took advantage of our offerings. The snow is crusty and while acorns were plentiful, foraging for them has become a more difficult task. But birdseed is free feed and once discovered means often frequented.

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That’s OK for now because it gives me a chance to get to know these guys. We live in an 1870s house on former farmland (I often refer to the cowpath), all of which played a part in the reduction of forest land, one of the factors that led to the extirpation of native wild turkeys in Maine. Slowly, the land has reverted to forest, which helped in reestablishing turkeys to their former range. At the same time, our neighbors, thankfully, continued to mow the adjacent field that we look upon, which provides for prime turkey nesting habitat.

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Tom and his brother Tom and his other brother Tom are handsome devils in their own unique ways. Their featherless heads of blue and pink and red raised bumps called  caruncles change colors with their moods.

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And on their chests, bristle-like feathers that don’t look at all like feathers are referred to as beards (by us humans–I’m not sure what turkeys call them). Though some hens sport beards, theirs are not as robust or long as those of the Toms.

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“You looking at me?” asked Tom.

“Yes, I am. I’m admiring your iridescent feathers layered like slates on a roof and those spurs on your legs used for defense and dominance. Do you object?”

“Well, I guess I am rather handsome.”

“I didn’t say that.”

Yeah, the turkeys and I, we talk. We’ve long had a relationship and I truly don’t think you should eat them. Maybe next Thanksgiving I’ll tell you my turkey story.  I know they can leave a mess in the yard and become aggressive, but . . .

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I encourage you to follow their tracks into the woods. You never know where they might lead.

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Following them today led to the vernal pool. Note the pen, my form of perspective in relationship to size because it’s what I had in my pocket. The pen measures 5.5 inches. Turkey prints are large.

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The pool wasn’t teeming with amphibian life yet, but for the first time all winter, it was obvious that visitors had stopped by.

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Their timing wasn’t the same, but the turkeys strutted across, while deer slid and skidded on the ice. Life happened over and over again.

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It appeared to be more than one deer–perhaps a mother and a skipper or two wanted to skate, much as our sons used to do at this very same spot.

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And among the prints, those of a predator, though its journey appeared to be earlier than the deer. Gray squirrel tracks circled the perimeter and maybe that was the intended prey, though really, any of these critters would have made a desirable meal–the forest being what it is, groceries gleaned when needed.

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Continuing the journey, plenty more turkey tracks and then the white tails of deer  flashing in the distance. Beside the trail another item on the grocery shelf–fresh hemlock bark scraped.

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One final item in a different aisle–fresh pileated woodpecker holes. They wake us each morning with their drumming and the sound continues throughout the day. Wrapped around the tree, a vine that added to this bird’s food.

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Its scat told of the source–not only a few carpenter ants, but also bittersweet fruits. Yes, this is how the seeds of this invasive species spread.

And so it was today that I traveled the woodland trail alone after a morning and afternoon spent with my guy. And . . . the Toms shared their story and those of others. It was indeed a Mondate–spent with others.

(Did you think I was going to mention Tom Brady? Congrats to the Pats on their Super Bowl victory.)